My life is more than my work

TRAVEL: For a person who loves where he lives, I like going places! We've been to 5 of 7 continents, except for Antarctica and Australia, and one of those is, not unthinkable, but unlikely.  According to my list on TripAdvisor, I've been to 134 cities in 22 countries ... so far, soon 139 and 24. The USA is under-represented on my list; I want to see more. However, we did ride an Amtrak sleeper car to Savannah, so I was "leavin' on a midnight train to Georgia." 

TripAdvisor says I've been to 14% of the countries in the world. I need to pick up the pace!

THE TOURING TEST: We show ourselves around Europe, but good tours are a great help where we don't know the culture, art, and history: I want to understand and appreciate what I see. Asking questions and getting human answers is a good way to assess a tour's quality, as well as to test artificial intelligence. Tours also help logistically, in places where I can't even read the *alphabet*, much less the language, freeing up my attention for experience rather than negotiating the details. To tour Turkey, I highly recommend the small Turkish company Pacha Tours ... it's all they do. Try to get their extraordinary Toplum as a guide, if you can; he's the best. Two fellow safari-ers in Kenya were talking about their own great Pacha Tours experience, but said the other group couldn't praise their guide enough, though they couldn't remember his name. I said "it was Toplum" and their jaws dropped … they couldn't recall it, but they recognized it. Talk about international renown!

For everything else, there's SmarTours, which we've used 3 times so far ... China, Kenya, and Thailand/Cambodia ... and will soon again. We've booked a trip at the end of the year with SmarTours to Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu in Peru, and to Quito and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. We were very happy guests of both Pacha Tours and SmarTours; if you ask, I'll tell you why. I also enjoy throwing a party and inviting people that I met in Africa and Asia! 

Angkor Wat, Cambodia (the Khmer made amazing temples)
Assisi, Italy (saw the Giotto murals pre-earthquake)
Berlin, Germany (to chip away at the Berlin Wall)

Chiang Mai, Thailand (elephant camp!)
El Calafate, Argentina (glorious glaciers)
Ephesus, Turkey (better Greek ruins than Greece)
Guilin, China (lovely city, strange rocks)

Iguazu Falls, Argentina (bigger & more varied than Niagara)

Paris, France (the only repeat on this list ... 4 times so far)
Tortuguero, Costa Rica (true jungle & black panthers)

NEWS: here standing for North, East, West, and South. I live in Brooklyn NY, USA [40.39° N, 73.57°  W]. The farthest North of here that I've yet been is Berlin [52.30° N, 13.25°  E]. I've been in West Berlin & East Berlin (I broke pieces off of the Berlin Wall! Come over, I'll show you) and several times in Cologne (Köln), in West Germany, but never yet in unified Germany. 

For my farthest East, I'll use Siem Reap, Cambodia [13.22° N, 103.51° E] , and for the farthest West, Chunqing, China [28.10° N, 105.17 E]. They aren't that far from each other, but hey, the world's pearish, if not actually round. 

My farthest South yet has been Calafate, Argentina, to see some remaining glaciers [50.19° S, 72.15° W]. If you want to figure out your own NEWS, the site I used to find latitude & longitude was How Far Is It?. Just enter one city where it asks for two.

world languages 508985

Other languages force my tongue ... and my thoughts ...
into unfamiliar parts of my head.

HOW DO YOU SAY ... ?: Rather than let myself be completely untongued, I have a short list of words and phrases that I look up in a phrasebook (will that be paper or digital?) when I travel where I don't speak the vernacular. I usually commit them to an index card I pocket, rather than to my memory, which needs an upgrade. Nothing endears you to Hungarians more than asking Do you speak English? (or Spanish or French) ... but asking it in Hungarian. Actually, just learn kus-sun-nom (with equal accent on the three syllables; it means thank you) and the Hungarian people couldn't be kinder; they're so flattered when anyone anywhere learns even one word of their language. Hungarian and Finnish (how'd that happen?) are the only major tongues in the Uralic family. I almost bowled over a local Brooklyn waiter once, so fast was his double-take when I thanked him in Hungarian. 

My short word list always includes excuse me & please & thank you, as everyone says these more than Americans do. I've learned that in some languages, there's 2 excuse me's: one for an accidental bump when passing by, and a different one for sorry to interrupt you, but here's a question. And I learn at least the numeral 2, so I can walk up to a ticket window and say 2, please. Sometimes that's all I need for that one encounter. Oh, except for thank you. You may want a few more numbers if shopping is big on your agenda, though a pad and pencil usually suffice, since very nearly everyone uses Arabic numerals. I like to print a page with $1 to $100 in US & local currency (-ies); with a spreadsheet, that takes seconds. Shape it rectangular for ease of carrying, and shade one currency in a color for fast look-up. On a smart phone, you can keep up with changing conversion rates as you go. But if your smart phone has data reception there, then you have immediate currency conversion & Google Translate for speech. If it's a Roman alphabet language, that is.

You want to know where's the bathroom? as well as left & right  to help understand the answer, though folks almost always gesture with their body, head or eyes. And I need to know no cheese for when Liz orders food, and no meat and no onions for me. Yes, we're a pain to feed. I've been a semi- vegetarian since 1976 (no red meat or poultry, but I eat eggs, cheese, fish, and most seafood, so many would contest that vegetarian label). Note that I didn't say I eat healthy; there's no beef in M&M's, so I have no beef eating them.


where is the bathroom?
thank you
excuse me
the other excuse me, if different
do you speak English?
                     ... Spanish?
                     ... French?
cheese (Liz doesn't eat it)
meat (I don't eat it)
onions (I don't eat these either)

Some additional words may need to be added for a particular trip. For example, traipsing  through Italy in late February/early March, I learned ahead of time the words letto matrimoniale and calefaccion. We were reserving rooms city by city as we went (don't try this in the spring or summer! All beds are full). We wanted one larger bed, not twin singles, and we were warned that, especially in Rome, some rooms have no heat. You have to ask for one that does at reservation time. Outside of these 2 phrases, I spoke Spanish and they Italian, and we understood each other just fine. Your mileage may vary.

Tony moon 2011-07-07

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